Before seasonal rains and clouds grip our Pacific Northwest, uou might want to get out to several nearby scenic corners on the Olympic Peninsula. Hood Canal is my first choice. Of course, the majestic Olympic Mountains (where mysterious Goblins reside) is the backdrop, and a floating bridge, oyster beds and ten shades of green frame the scene. But look more closely.
Among the withered blackberry vines are tiny villages that could just as well be strewn along Central European ridges or above Germany’s Mainz River. The Big Names of course are Port Angeles, Port Townsend and Bremerton, but if you are seriously investigating our gloomy, quiet fall, look for the charming settlements of Coyle, Shine, Hadlock, Irondale, Brinnon, and ghostly Dungeness.
In 1792, English captain George Vancouver left us a cursory but enticing record of this region, much of it cribbed from the notes of his boss and mate, Lord Samuel Hood and Lieutenant Peter Puget. At Discovery Bay near today’s Foulweather Bluff, Vancouver experienced a “sunshine belt,” wih only approximately 16 inches of annual precipitation, now claimed by the busy burgeoning community of Sequim.
Fifty miles south of Sequim annual rainfall registers over 150 inches – a dizzying gap of climate within a few miles of each other. Those drizzles, high or low, nurture a bounty of rhododendron, Washington state’s official flower, and favor the lowland skunk cabbage, a legume once used by Indians as food (and the large leaves as eating plates).
Vancouver described the Natives (likely Twana tribes of Hood Canal) as clever and industrious. Legends hint that this is where the most durable Native lodges and fish weirs were built. The Chemakum tribe, a small, fierce band near today’s Hadlock and Port Ludlow, may have been the first non-white human observers of Vancouver’s reconnoiter of “Hood’s Channel.”
After Vancouver sailed home to England — allowing other adventurous Euro-Americans to dig clams, splash in the cold waters of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and build bungalows along the gurgling streams — a new breed of visitor sailed into view. Next in line was Lt. Charles Wilkes, skipper of an American scientific exploration of what many thought would be the “other” great American West Coast port after San Francisco Bay.
At the turn of the century Puget Sound became a haven for free-thinkers, religious crusaders, and utopians. Freeland, deriving its name from the Free Land Association, an offshoot of lower Puget Sound’s Burley Colony, enjoyed a short life on Whidbey Island, directly across from the entrance to Hood Canal. Members of Port Angeles’ Puget Sound Co-operative Colony in 1887 sent an expedition to Hood Canal to catch and salt salmon. The die was cast: younger visitors continued to wander through Puget Sound country to “do their own thing.” Among the results were small shops, restaurants, artistic programs, farmer’s markets, and cooperative food marts (take a look at Port Townsend for the best offspring examples).
The Mountaineers and other groups often hosted explorations into the Cascade foothills or far reaches of the Olympic rain forest to see the myriad colors of Pacific Northwest deciduous trees – a late Fall show of shows. You might augment this by embarking on a trip along the shore of Hood Canal or through the Center or Chimacum Valleys.
In the high country, elk and huckleberries appear, with black bear searching for the blue-red berry patches. Nearer the Canal, maple, alder and other limbs and trunks are ablaze with autumn hues and scampering animals. It’s exciting to find these species, which are often “lost” among the more dominant spruce, fir, cedar, and hemlock – the kings and queens of Puget Sound.
As you meander the Canal and nearby bays and villages, keep in mind that others were here before your day. Besides the 12,000-year Native world, and later Euro-American explorers, writer James Stevens’ books about Paul Bunyon and his companion, Babe the Blue Ox, describe how these giants of legend rearranged this undulating water-and-mountain puzzle. Besides, who can avoid spending a few hours or days in towns with names like Hamma Hamma, Dosewallips, and Lilliwaup?
Welcome to Hood Canal, and note that the waters are a reflective pool, then a maelstrom. It remains, in George Vancouver’s words, “this delightful country.”